Drinking Versus Tasting: Learning the Difference with Champagne Henriot

IMG_5245Drinking versus tasting are two very different things and a recent “medi-tasting” with Champagne Henriot made that theory as clear as a wine glass! Since I became a wine geek, I’ve noticed a difference in how I drink. Sometimes I’m tasting – where I’m really paying attention to everything a wine is offering up — the color, the aroma, the texture, the flavors and all that it is evoking — and other times, I just want to drink a freaking glass of wine. So the invitation from Champagne Henriot to taste wine using meditation techniques at the same time was intriguing.

The event was at Cindy’s Rooftop, which – I mean, say no more! Cindy’s has one of the best views and best outdoor patios in all of Chicago, on the 18th floor of the Chicago Athletic Association and it was a beautiful summer day. Well-done, Henriot people!

It makes sense, too, because Champagne Henriot is all about “the light within,” and meditation is sort of about focusing on your own light within, so, again – well-done on bringing a brand to life, Henriot!

Upon arriving, I saw a bunch of friends, and we were each handed a glass of Henriot Blanc de Blancs, which is 100% Chardonnay and 100% delicious. We were outdoors, sipping and talking, going, “This is so fabulous, hanging out on a sunny summer Monday afternoon drinking Champagne!” But we were definitely drinking, not tasting.

fullsizeoutput_afeThen we all went inside and were introduced to Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. and co-founder of the Center for Mindful Living. From L.A. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one going, “Oh, man, here’s a super-crunchy, hippie-dippie California meditation freak.” But guess what? The guy was not only super-smart, he also made the whole “medi-tasting” thing make sense!

Here’s what we did:

  1. We all closed our eyes as Dr. Goldstein described a terrible day. Bad from the minute the alarm went off. Ugh, it was such a downer – especially when we saw a friend and waved and said hi and the person ignored us and kept walking.  (Thanks, asshole.) We opened our eyes and talked about how we felt — stressed, anxious, bummed-out that our friend totally ignored us – and how it must be us – because the whole day sucks and we suck, too. That was the whole mentality that was created in that little exercise.
  2.  Then we all closed our eyes again, and he described the same day – but it was perfect! Everything was going our way. Except for that one part that was the same – we saw a friend, waved and said hi and they kept walking. But this time, we all felt differently about that bit – we all felt more empathy for that person, like they must be having a hard day. So when our attitude shifted, so did our entire outlook.
  3. So this small exercise in itself kind of wowed everyone and showed how  perceptions can change based on your mood, your attitude, your stress-level and other factors.

Meanwhile, there was a mighty tempting glass of bubbles sitting on the table.  But we weren’t going to get to it for a few more minutes. Because we were going to take our time. Slow down. Pay attention to every detail. Things that wine geeks should be doing every time they are tasting – but things that often get skipped because we are in a rush, under pressure, stressed out.

So we practiced the “STOP” system: Stop. Take a deep breath, Observe your experience, our environment, your mood. Proceed with intention. So we really examined the wine – the color, the bubbles, the size and speed of the bubbles, the tiny, microscopic effervescence of the bubbles.

Then we listened to the wine! Yes! This was a ridiculous amount of fun and I wish I’d taken a photo of the roomful of us doing it – because Elisha said a smile came over every face as soon as we put that glass to our ear – because of course you can hear the fizz, pop-pop, fizz of Champagne and it was such a delightful sound! Then we put our nose to the glass and savored all the aromas.

And then we spent a bit of time thinking and talking about all that had gone into that glass – the grapes, the people who cared for the grapes, for a whole year, the people who picked them, who crushed and fermented them, who tended the bottles in the cellar like little bubbly babies until they were ready for disgorging, and corking and shipping all the way from the Champagne region of France to us here in Chicago. That is a shit-ton of work, time and attention that went into each bottle, each glass!

IMG_5247And then we tasted.

Soon we started noticing that we were all picking up new aromas, different textures, flavors and sensations than we did while we’d been drinking, earlier. And it was fascinating!

With the Champagne Henriot Blanc de Blancs, I picked up a dizzying bread-pudding aroma – that classic rich, bready-note that the yeast and the spent yeast cells (also known as the lees) bring to the party. But also lime zest, and the gentle sweetness of lime curd. I noticed the acidity – how the wine made my mouth water, I felt the fizzle of the bubbles on my tongue and insides of my cheeks and I noticed a warmth on the back of my palate – a subtle spice note. The whole damn glass seemed like it was being more generous, after I’d invested some time and thought in it. It was the apex of wine geekdom.

The wine is made from mostly Premier and Grand Cru fruit and aged for five years, with a dosage of 8 g/l. Dosage is the volume of sugar added to balance out Champagne – which it needs because grapes in the Champagne region struggle to get ripe. A Brut Champagne can contain up to 12 grams per liter (g/l). Any more and you get into Extra Brut territory, which is the most confusing thing ever – because it sounds drier/less sweet, yet actually is the opposite. $60 retail.

On to Champagne Henriot Cuve 38. This is cool – they isolate one tank – or cuve – of Chardonnay from Grand Cru vineyards in four separate villages in Champagne. Each year – for 19 years – they removed some wine from the tank and replaced it with current vintage wine, so it is a crazy mish-mosh of Chardonnay 19 vintages. Then they age it and bottle it exclusively in magnums (equal to 1.5 liter, or two standard bottle) – and they release exactly 1,000 magnums each year. Dosage is 5 g/l.

It was beautiful. I picked up a nutty aroma, salinity, candied bacon – yes! – creamy lemon meringue pie, green apple. It was bright, minerally and my favorite of the whole tasting. (And at $550 – $700 per magnum, it ought to be!)

Champagne Henriot Hemera was the next Champagne, made from 100 percent Grand Cru fruit — 50 percent Chardonnay and 50 percent Pinot Noir — aged for 12 years.  Ooh – wee, this was some sexy Champagne! The aging makes it rich and decadent, with a silken texture in between the bubbles, but it also has a zesty freshness, with a little tart green apple and candied citrus fruit. $165 retail, but the wine is so new, it is not yet fully launched in the U.S. More, please!

And just because, a few bottles of Champagne Henriot Brut Rosé were poured and I never met a rosé Champagne I didn’t like. This one is 50 percent Pinot Noir, 40 percent Chardonnay and 10 percent Pinot Meunier and had a classic, red-fruit nose and delicate red fruit on the palate. I could drink it all day long! $70 retail.

So – that is the difference between tasting and drinking. You should do both. Taste when you have time, take notes, write down what you see, smell, hear and taste. But don’t be afraid to just drink sometimes, too. When I’m at dinner with friends, I’m not subjecting everyone to my fanatical tasting rituals and note-taking – I’m just sharing a bottle with friends and food. We’re appreciating the wine, for sure, but we’re not dissecting it.

Cheers to tasting and drinking! And thank you, Champagne Henriot, for a memorable afternoon. (And check out this earlier post about drinking more bubbles in general! Bubbles make everything better!






  1. Since I am all into that mindfulness, what a great exercise to have with friends or especially fellow wine yogis! Of course, Champagne would also be my pick of wines for this exercise. Thanks for sharing!


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